Brescia (Lombard: Brèsa) is a city in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy. It is situated at the foot of the Alps, between the Mella and the Naviglio, with a population of around 190000. It is the second largest city in Lombardy, after the capital, Milan.
The city is the administrative capital of the Province of Brescia, one of the largest in Italy, with about 1200000 inhabitants. The ancient city of Brixia, Brescia has been an important regional centre since pre-Roman times and a number of Roman and medieval monuments are preserved, among which is the prominent castle.
The city is at the centre of the third-largest Italian industrial area, concentrating on mechanical and automotive engineering and machine tools. Its companies are typically small or medium- sized enterprises, often with family managements. The financial sector is also a major employer, and the tourist trade benefits from the proximity of Lake Garda, Lake Iseo and the Alps.
The plan of the city is rectangular, and the streets intersect at right angles, a peculiarity handed down from Roman times, though the area enclosed by the medieval walls is larger than that of the Roman town, which occupied the eastern portion of the present one. The Piazza del Foro marks the site of the forum, and the museum on its north side is ensconced in a Corinthian temple with three cellae, by some attributed to Hercules, but more probably the Capitolium of the city, erected by Vespasian in AD 73 (if the inscription really belongs to the building, which was excavated in 1823. The museum houses a famous bronze statue of Victory, found in 1826. Scanty remains of a building on the south side of the forum, called the curia, but which may have been a basilica, and of the theatre, east of the temple, still exist.
Invaded by the Gauls Cenomani, allied of the Insubri, in the 4th century BC, it became their capital; the city became Roman in 225 BC, when the Cenomani submitted to Virginia. During the Carthaginian Wars Brixia was usually allied of the Romans: in 202 BC it was part of a Celt confederation against them, but, after a secret agreement, changed side and attacked by surprise the Insubri, destroying them. Subsequently the city and the tribe entered peacefully in the Roman world as a faithful allied, maintaining a certain administrative freedom. In 89 BC it was recognized as civitas ("city") and in 41 BC received the Roman citizenship. Augustus founded a civil (not a military) colony here in 27 BC, and he and Tiberius constructed an aqueduct to supply it. The Roman Brixia had at least three temples, an aqueduct, an amphitheater, a forum with a further temple built under Vespasianus, and some baths.
When Constantine advanced against Maxentius in 312, an engagement took place at Brescia in which the enemy was forced to retreat as far as Verona. In 402 the city was ravaged by the Visigoths of Alaric I. During the invasion of the Huns under Attila, the city was again besieged and sacked (452) while, some forty years later, it was one of the first conquests of the Goth general Theoderic the Great in his war against Odoacer.
Notingus was the first (prince-)bishop (in 844) who bore the title of Count (see Bishopric of Brescia). Later the power of the bishop as imperial representative was gradually defied by the local citizens and nobles, Brescia becoming a free commune around the early 12th century. Subsequently it expanded in the nearby countryside, first at the expenses of the local landholders, and later against the neighbouring communes, notably Bergamo and Cremona. Brescia defeated the latter two times at Pontoglio, and then at the Grumore (mid-12th century) and in the battle of the Malamorte(Bad Death) (1192). In the successive struggles between the Lombard cities and the emperors, Brescia was implicated in some of the leagues and in all of the uprisings against them. In the Battle of Legnano the contingent from Brescia was the second in size after that of Milan. The Peace of Constance (1183) that ended the war with Frederick Barbarossa confirmed officially the free status of the commune. In 1201 the podestà Rambertino Buvalelli made peace and established a league with Cremona, Bergamo, and Mantua. Memorable is also the siege laid to Brescia by the emperor Frederick II in 1238 on account of the part taken by this city in the battle of Cortenova (27 November, 1237). Brescia came through this assault victorious. After the fall of the Hohenstaufen, republican institutions declined at Brescia as in the other free cities and the leadership was contested between powerful families, chief among them the Maggi and the Brusati, the latter of the (pro-imperial, anti-papal) Ghibelline party. In 1258 it fell into the hands of Eccelino of Verona.
In 1311 Emperor Henry VII laid siege to Brescia for six months, losing three-fourths of his army. Later the Scaliger of Verona, aided by the exiled Ghibellines, sought to place Brescia under subjection. The citizens of Brescia then recoursed to John of Luxemburg, but Mastino II della Scala expelled the governor appointed by him. His mastery was soon contested by the Visconti of Milan, but not even their rule was undisputed, as Pandolfo Malatesta in 1406 took possession of the city, but in 1416 bartered it to Filippo Maria Visconti, who in 1426 sold it to the Venetians. The Milanese nobles forced Filippo to resume hostilities against the Venetians, and thus to attempt the recovery of this city, but he was defeated in the battle of Maclodio (1427), near Brescia. In 1439 Brescia was once more besieged by Francesco Sforza, captain of the Venetians, who defeated Niccolò Piccinino, Filippo's condottiero. Thenceforward Brescia acknowledged the authority of Venice, with the exception of the years between 1512 and 1520, when it was occupied by the French armies under Gaston of Foix, Duke of Nemours. Early in the 16th century it was one of the wealthiest cities of Lombardy, but has never recovered from its sack by the French. It subsequently shared the fortunes of the Venetian republic until 1796, when it came under Austrian dominion.
In 1769 the city was devastated when the Church of San Nazaro was struck by lightning. The resulting fire ignited 90000 kg (200000 lb) of gunpowder being stored there, causing a massive explosion which destroyed one sixth of the city and killed 3000 people.
Brescia was annexed to Italy in 1859.
The city was awarded a Gold Medal for its resistance against Fascism, in World War II.